Saturday, July 28, 2007

Women and Other Animals

Author: Bonnie Jo Campbell

First line: Though Big Joanie senses something is wrong, she does not turn to look at the tiger.

Why you should read this book: Provocative and poetic, this collection won the AWP intro award for its eclectic mix of middle-American eccentrics and their individual journeys through a world by turns unthinkably bizarre and unquestionably mundane. In "Eating Aunt Victoria," two siblings joke between themselves as paramedics haul their dead mother's obese lover from the wreck of their front porch, in "Gorilla Girl," a wild creature trapped in a suburban girl's body seeks an outlet to express her true animal nature, and a teenager's nascent breasts take on divine significance in "The Sudden Physical Development of Debra Dupuise." Old houses, new trucks, fallow farms, and bizarre family traditions run through this excellent collection of tender and outrageous short stories.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You think women should be seen and not heard.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Author: J. K. Rowling

First line: The two men appeared out of nowhere, a few yards apart in the narrow, moonlit lane.

Why you should read this book: Rowling finishes up her bestselling series with slow-paced aplomb, overt spectacle, and a moderate yet restrained body count, tying up every loose end with enough intimate details to satisfy the most diehard fans. Every character makes a true showing according to his or her inner nature, legends abound, and the battle between good and evil is settled once and for all. Much darker and more bellicose than the rest of the series, but not beyond reason for the intelligent and well-adjusted child.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You take umbrage at authors becoming so successful that no editor would dare to suggest that their novel would be even more perfect without a hundred fifty superfluous pages of beloved characters standing around, scratching their rears, wondering what's going on (or you take the deaths of fictional characters extremely personally).

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Prague Winter

Author: Richard Katrovas

Quote: ...and suddenly I thought that here at last I'd done it, I'd finally pissed off someone with a weapon and the will to use it, after years of mouthing off in biker bars and leaning on my horn in New Orleans--where once good men got lynched for less--after a youth of not caring whom I angered and well into middle life unscarred, unbowed, in Prague, in summer, I would die of road rage...

Why you should read this book: Richard Katrovas is equally unafraid of picking fights with strangers, friends, colleagues, lovers, and himself and he writes fearless poems with brute honesty, mocking his own temper and taking refuge in moments of tenderness. Read together, these poems tell the story of a decade, give or take, in which the poet follows his heart to a country he knows nothing about, trading his childless marriage for a new family conceived on the night of Czechoslovakia's Velvet Revolution. Along the way, he eulogizes fallen friends, ridicules his passion, dabbles in history, and describes his experience in a nation brand new, and unknowably ancient.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You have no sympathy for adulterers.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

The Book of Werewolves

Author: Sabine Baring-Gould

First line: I shall never forget the walk I took one night in Vienne, after having accomplished the examination of an unknown Druidical relic, the Pierre labie, at La Rondelle, near Champigni.

Why you should read this book: Reprinted from an 1865 edition, this volume provides an unusual background on conceptions of lycanthropy, focusing on theriomorphic transformation in legend, various accounts of blood lust and berserker rage, and concluding with a number of somewhat sensationalistic reports of idiosyncratic cannibalism. Dated, both in assumptions about the human condition as well as assumptions that the reader is naturally conversant in Greek, Latin, and French, the book still lays out an enticing overview of cryptozoological beliefs of a hundred and fifty years ago. An excellent selection for students of mythogy, the macabre, and historical crime, and alienism.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're afraid to be led into temptation by the devil.

Monday, July 9, 2007

A Simple Path

Author: Mother Teresa

First line: We all must take the time to be silent and to contemplate, especially those who live in big cities like London and New York, where everything moves so fast.

Why you should read this book: In her own words, and in the words of the sisters, brothers, priests, and volunteers who work with her, Mother Teresa explains how she and those of her order are able to accomplish such tremendous success in their ministrations to the poorest of the poor. Following her six-point path of silence, prayer, faith, love, service, and peace, she explains that love is the universal constant, and all things are possible in a life lived with love. Although the account is heavy on prayer and Catholic thoughts, it is written in such as way as to be useful to people of any--or no--religion in the quest to live a life of service and devotion, and demonstrates that the smallest act, offered in the spirit of love, has positive consequence.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You reject the doctrine of love, or you can't overcome your anti-Catholic bias.

The Wild Boy

Author: Mordicai Gerstein

First line: Once there was a boy who lived in the mountain forests of southern France.

Why you should read this book: The real Victor was found in 1800, living naked and alone in the forest, and became something of a media sensation before the real Dr. Itard stepped in with the idea of educating him to take his place in society. This book recounts their story, recreating the emotions and sensations experienced by the wild child and the doctor in their quest for understanding. A lovely book that demonstrates compassion and empathy, showing that, while we may not understand the experiences or perceptions of others, we can still feel their joy and sorrow, and help them to thrive.

Why you shouldn't read this book: Gerstein also wrote a full-length novel, Victor, which gives a much more complete account of the same subject, and anyone interested in the wild boy's life or Dr. Itard's methods will do well to turn to the expanded version, rather than the children's book.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

A Single Shard

Author: Linda Sue Park

First line: "Eh, Tree-ear! Have you hungered well today?"

Why you should read this book: A beautiful, Newbery-winning story of a determined orphan who will do anything to learn the potter's trade. Raised under a bridge by a kindly old man with a twisted leg, Tree-ear is upright and honorable, and when he gets the opportunity to work for the greatest potter in the village, he takes the work seriously. Sent on a long journey to bring his master's finest work to the King, Tree-ear faces the challenge of a lifetime and shows the world that he is worthy to become an artist.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You don't see the point in laboring over fine art.

The Whipping Boy

Author: Sid Fleischman

First line: The young prince was known here and there (and just about everywhere) as Prince Brat.

Why you should read this book: In a voice part comic, part tragic, this book tells the story of Jemmy, a luckless orphan boy who is whipped whenever the obnoxious young prince misbehaves. When Prince Brat decides to run away, he leads Jemmy into an adventure that will have both of them scrambling for their lives while the prince learns something about the real word. Short and fast-paced, this Newbery title is pure fun.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a brat.

The Bravest Thing

Author: Donna Jo Napoli

First line: It all started with a death.

Why you should read this book: Laurel loves animals, especially her pet rabbit, but when she decides to mate her rabbit to her best friend's cousin's rabbit, the miracle of life transforms into tragedy. Throwing herself into the role of mother, she fights to save her newborn bunnies, and learns more about the circle of life than she bargained for, and teaches those around her in the process.

Why you shouldn't read this book: So many dead animals.

The Emperor's Plum Tree

Author: Michelle Nikly

First line: Long ago, in the lad of the rising sun, there lived an emperor whose garden was beautiful beyond imagination.

Why you should read this book: When the death of a plum tree brings a flaw into the emperor's perfect garden, he uses his influence to return the garden to a state of perfection, without considering that his gain is another's loss. It takes the work of a small boy to help him realize that he is not the only person on the planet and that other living creatures deserve pleasure as well. Short and sweet with lovely illustrations as well as a strong message about the nature of impermanence and the natural order of life.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a selfish jerk and you always put your own whims above the needs of others.

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High

Author: Melba Patillo Beals

Why you should read this book: The author was one of nine black teenagers who braved the opposition of the governor, the Arkansas National Guard, and a town full of hateful racists to integrate one of the best high schools in the state. With little protection or support, these students lived through an entire year of brutal physical and emotional violence, death threats, and psychological warfare against them and their families. The level of aggression through which they suffered, silently, taking Ghandi as their model, is incredible, both in terms of the depths to which their attackers would sink, but also the heights to which these brave students soared spiritualy in overcoming adversity.

Why you shouldn't read this book: You're a hateful racist.